P – Akhtar everyone calls her. Akhtar which is AKHTAR.
P – and that’s in Langroud, a little town in North of Iran. That’s around Caspian Sea, northof Iran.
Both your own family and when you were younger, so how many in your family?
P – My mother’s got two sisters and one brother. She’s got two sons and one daughter.
And where were you in the family, which number?
P – Her brother is oldest and my mother is after her brother. And the other two sisters
are younger but it’s only just two years in between them.
P – I’ve got a daughter, 6 years old.
Do you come from a large extended family?
P – Well, yes. I mean I have lots. My father’s side is a huge family, my mother as well – lots
of aunties, cousins… of course aunties and uncles are all dead but many many cousins.
P – I’m very close to my mother’s side. We were always closer, because we lived in Tehran
and my mother’s family all moved to Tehran. She and my aunties were very close. Whereas my father’s side all lived again in the rest of Iran, around the same area – Caspian
Sea. We’re still kind of in touch but we didn’t see much of them when we were growing up.
P – Her [Aktar] mum was a housewife, her father basically produced tea. It was basically
rice, tea. he was in the… not farming. The actual family that was in use. He obviously
works with the farmers. The way it works obviously farmers they do al the work, theseorganisations they distribute them.
What did you do? You were a housewife in Iran?
So you lived in Tehran. Did you migrate within Iran at all?
P – Yes. When they were very young.
P – She was 23 when they all moved to Tehran.
P – Yeah, my mother. We are from a very liberal family. For my mum, yeah, she does praynow and then, and she does believe in god.
When you were a child, do you remember being fed anything when you were sick (toAkhtar)?
P – Are you talking about what they were fed?
P – My mother is talking about when they have temperature. It’s leaves of this particular
tree that they used to pick a lot of them and put in bed and you lie on those and that all of asudden cools you down… You were covered with these leaves. [Willow]
P - Yes you lie on them and then they are poured all over you.
A – This one on mattress or bed put in leaves and he’s lying down and then leaves again
P – which one is the tree which is like. I can’t remember the name. Willow?
Sometimes on a lake they hang over….
P – exactly, hanging down like that. But these sort of things… I mean next time when we’re
talking I’ll have my dictionary with me, then we can look them up. Because there a lots ofthings, details which I definitely don’t know some of them might not have names.
P – This one is quite straight forward. I’m not very good with flowers and trees… Theyused to always do that for temperature. They used to bring the heat down. Rice and
almonds. Soak rice and soak almonds, then peel the almonds and you grind themseparately…. Basically, yes, grinding both of these then, they are used separately. At the
end you mix them. Grind these two and used to put them in a kind of a filter and you know
squeeze it, just get the juice of that then add to that crystal sugar – not sugar but onlycrystal sugar.
P - It’s totally different, it looks like crystal. It’s yellow and white. It’s important to actually
mention this. In Iranian… what do you call it… I’m gonna make things up a lot…. BasicallyIranians believe that everything we eat, food… anything edible, they are divided into two
different natures. The nature of food, one is warm one is cold. Sugar we have with tea,that’s got a cold nature but crystal sugar has got a warm nature so that’s why she
emphasises that it shouldn’t be sugar but crystal sugar. Because all day you have thing you
having with warm nature not cool nature. So you should add the crystal sugar to thatmixture and add cardamom to it. Again cardamom is something which is extremely warm.
So a mixture of this if drink you make out of this and then you leave that and it becomeslike rice pudding. That basically stops diarrhoea . So that was one thing I remember when I
P - Yes you leave it. For me the recipe I can’t translate in a better way. This is the
ingredient – you can’t find one person in Iran that doesn’t believe in hot and cold. For
instance we say dates are warm, if you eat a lot of warm things you get spots, but I don’tknow how to put that in English. |When you got temperature they always go and buy lots of
watermelon, and they start eating watermelon because watermelon brings the temperaturedown again. First of all you drink, you pass water when you have watermelon and you just
keep doing that until your cold and temperature goes away. These are natural remedies. In
other languages you have masculine and feminine. Anything you put your finger on, that iswarm and this is cold.
P - Yeah, exactly. I know a bit less… I know a little bit but my when my mum says ‘that’s
warm, that’s cold’. But when you have a stomach ache you should never have anything with
a cold nature. So this cold and warmness… I think one of these Persian books point it out. If you have a stomach ache you should have something warm. What we do for instance, you
know sometimes your stomach is turnings. My mother has given that to a few of my friendsand it has had an effect. Like crystal sugar, a whole bowl has got crystal sugar, my mum
grinds it and it’s like a powder. The same with cardamom. You put a mixture of powdered
cardamom and a powdered crystal sugar in hot water. You just have that and your stomachache just goes away. It just calms it down. A friend of mine was just dying from stomach
ache and my mum gave him this and it just went away. You know when you have got soreleg in Iran, again they say, not that you have got a cold, but cold has touched you. You have
been cold, in that way the expression is. Which you need something warm against that to
calm that down. And that’s what it is.
Do you remember anything else in particular?
P – Oh yeah the other thing is sweet lemon which you don’t find here. If you go to Iranian
shops you can buy. or Indian shops my mum says… I don’t know, have you ever seen sweetlemon?
P – It’s just lemon, very yellow. It’s like orange but it’s yellow and it’s very sweet. You just
cut it up, juice it and if you don’t drink it within a minute it goes bitter. So you’ve got toquickly drink it. But this is again amazing that when you got temperature or cold, how much
that helps. Especially when you have got a cold, this sweet Lemon is something that it is…and temperature. These are all things that you… Make sure that sweet lemon is cold, so
that if you’ve got a hot temperature so basically offset against… Instead of water you can
just drink that. It’s a sort of combination. Sweet lemon, watermelon… it goes againsttemperature….
This is for muscle spasm, any kind of back pain or ribs, any part of the body, especiallyaround here [the middle]. I’ve seen that they’ve got a kind of hot soup pot made of clay, the
top is like that like a little vase… that’s not important the shape. The principle behind this is
they mix water with wheat and make a paste they put a paste on your back and then theyput a little bit of a cloth, they make them like a… wick… then they set fire to that, so that is
there around the area of your body… they put that vase on the top and it sucks somethingout of your body and it’s quite painful. They’ve always experienced that that’s been useful
for any kind of pain. Like for headache, you get a little glass – a tea glass – you just get a
match and you put it on your forehead and you just hold it like that and it just sucks it andhold it. You just leave it there. This again for headache just. sucks the pain out I don’t
know what it does. The principle is this, that it sucks something out. I remember my mum,her aunty, my grandmother, I remember always when I was a child to see them, we were
scared you know what’s happening there – fire and they used to go ouch the pain. But it
In China they call it cupping but with glass…. What’s the paste?
P - Just a mixture of wheat and water, so you make a past out of that and you spread itaround the part of the body that you are suffering, suffering from pain. Then, just a little bit
of a wick onto the paste. Once it’s lit up you put the cup on the top, it sucks that part of
the body. What they used to say it used to be one or two or three or five parts of thebody…. Just like behind the heart we used to think that it was very good for heart…. It’s
not the heart, just about the ribs and muscles and bones really.
A – 17 years I live here I can’t speak English…
Was there a large Iranian community when you came?
P – My mother has got her friends and sometimes they get together for some parties,
dinners, something like that. Some people are more involved than us, they are involved inthe Iranian community centre at different places… not us as such.
Do you have much time to cook in England?
P – Yeah, everyday. As long as she’s well she cooks.
P – I do yes. I don’t have much time but I try to do. I’m quite fussy because of my daughter.
I always try to make her something. Iranians always think everything is meat. We thinkwithout meat, you can’t survive. Crazy but we think that way. But we do have vegetable as
well. I mean variety, red meat, chicken, fish, all sorts.
One question will be good for you: school dinners.
P – No, my daughter doesn’t complain. She always says, ‘I ate all my lunch up’
P - Yeah. I mean she gets quite… we always get the menu for the week and she gets like
foreign food, like curry and things like that.
P - No, jacket potato and shepherds pie, chicken curry and rice. Quite a bit of rice they get
Have you used any particular for your wellbeing since coming to the UK?
P - Generally, like chicken soup. Our chicken soup is like vermicelli, chicken… and there is
another one which you put like a bit of crushed rice and coriander and all the different
herbs. onion, chicken again stuff like that… Not as such as like remedies…
P - Every now and then now she does sometimes make that…
P - Nothing really. She says it hasn’t happened… even if I wanted it, it hasn’t happened. Imean certain things like, you know, when my daughter was born – my wife is British – and
then colic. Crystal sugar with water can help a lot, well at the beginning. When babies getcolic for a period of time… she [Aktar] used to make this mixture of again of crystal sugar,
cardamom and hot water. Again she believes that definitely helps colic. I remember my
wife was scared of doing that and after a while when my daughter was, like, two or threeshe read that somewhere that instead of giving these sort of chemical things you just give
crystal sugar. Basically at that level but nothing to that extent that she’s tried and knows theoutcome.
Could you tell us of remedies that you remember as a child?
P – Well, we talked about the nature of food. So, divide foods into warm and cold. Watermelon is one of those that comes under the cold category, so when you have a fever,
a high fever, and any type of flu or cold, having lots of watermelon just helps you, first of allfor re-hydration.
How would you explain the warm and the cold properties?
P - She would say that some are cold and some are warm. She can’t explain exactly whythey are so. But especially with a fever the body gets really hot so you need something to
cool you down. In that way we say watermelon is cold and is good to bring the temperature
P - Just as it is or you can make it like a drink. Some people mix it with milk, like the Indians
do a lot of that. But you just have it as it is.
P – The other thing that comes under that category is sweet lemon, which you can’t find
P - It’s exactly like lemon, yellow exactly the same colour but the shape is exactly like
orange. It’s got a very thin skin and when you cut it up you’ve got to juice it and drink itimmediately because it goes bitter, immediately – just like after one minute even.
P - It’s very sweet at the beginning, so you just juice it and drink it at once.
P – Oh yes, it’s very tasty. You can find them in Iranian shops over here, yes, they import
them from Iran. I think they have them in India as well.
And what would you use it for, is it cooling?
P - Yes, exactly. Again for temperature or flu. Basically she’s expaining about the nature of
these things being cold like watermelon, like sweet lemon or when we talked about – Icouldn’t translate it then – it’s weeping willow, I think you got it yourself. So the leaves of
weeping-willow they sort of cover the bed with that when temperature is really high and
your basically covered with all the leaves and that cools the temperature down very quickly.
P – It cools you down immediately but all the leaves go really hot and you’ve got to justchange them and put some more. Twice or three times you change the leaves.
P - Not me no. She and her brother had them when they had a temperature.
P – It just basically cools you down and if you feel like you are just loosing the temperature.
I remember as well you were talking about diarrhoea?
P – That’s right yes. Another recipe. Basically that was for diarrhoea and has got immediate
effect. You marinate the rice first. It’s better if it’s over night for the day after. After it’s
marinated and it’s quite soft then you just grind the whole rice and it becomes like paste.
P – No, this is just after you get rid of the water, you basically drain it and then grind the
whole rice and then you put it in a plain cloth, sometimes they used to use tight, get the
juice out of the rice. Rice is something that is basically heavy for that reason they just thejuice out of it to make it lighter for stomach, considering someone who is suffering from
diarrhoea. Almond, that’s another thing. Again almond you marinate that and peel it onceit’s been very soft.
P - In water yes. Like in the same way as the rice. Again you do the same as rice justsqueeze it and get the juice out of the almond. A cup of rice with 10 almonds that’s mainly
the amount you use. And then you add cardamom. It’s better if you like the cardamom like
powder, not with the skin but the actual seeds of the cardamom.
P - You crush the whole seeds. Rice, Almond and then cardomon. And then you put them
together on the fire, you just stir it and keep on stirring it. It becomes like rice puddingbasically.
P – Oh yes, we always did. Sometimes they used to use it as milk for babies but that’s again
another way of using it. But I think it should really be with the diarrhaeo bit.
You would use it for babies for nutrition?
P - Yes you can because it’s very good for… it’s like, they think it’s like a vitamin for babies.
It’s very common because it becomes like milk and they just put it in babies bottle and they
P – Yes, exactly. I remember my nephew, he always had that when he was growing up. I
think you better as we might get carried away.
Do you have any memories of being sick, having treatments and being fed particular foods?
P – Well, myself, always when we have temperature, flu, cold, stuff like that…. She’s talking
P – That’s again for high temperature really. Would you like me to look it up?
P – This is kind of a cold nature thing. So violet and marshmallow(Althaea officinalis,marshmallow root), you put them in water and like tea they brew it. Just drink. That’s
P – Talking about a memory, her mother used to always around springtime. Violet in spring
was fresh. Basically they have that, they brew that and drink it like tea. It is again good for
Would it be drank as a tea for general health or…?
P – They way they look at… when the eat a lot of warm things such as dates, like walnuts –
they’ve got a special dish with walnuts which is very popular in Iran with chicken they make,walnut and pomegranate pure. When some people get spots that’s a sign of when you’ve
been eating a lot of warm things, and just to have something to offset against that basically.
They drink something cold like violet and marshmallow.
P – That’s just to cool it down. Basically they say it balances the kind of thing you eat.
P – They dry them as well. You can dry violet and use it exactly like tea, just brew it. But
of course it’s better if it’s fresh. Dry in spring then all around the year you can use it. MyMum’s pointing out something again that is hot shall we?
1 For further description of other herbal ingredients, such as marshmallow root, seewww.mrpete.net/Dictionary.pdf (visited 24 March 2006).
P – I have never heard these names in Farsi. This one especially she says is very common…(discussion)… I can’t find it.
P – She is trying to explain. Vegetable you have…
A – I look in Indian shop, I can’t find it here. Sometimes.
P – Egyptian Willow Water. I think it’s the same in that category, willow tree [Egyptian
willow (beedmeshk/bidmeshk)].This type is the Egyptian Willow Water, juice extract.
You have got different type of – I don’t know if you’ve seen in Eastern shops they’ve gotdifferent type of juice extracts, different type of trees – this is again something very common
in Iran because they have it for heart, for people with heart problems.
A – When especially your heart is beating very hard that brings it down. That’s translating
It’s a drink, it’s just like water. It comes from that tree again, willow. And it’s got a very
nice smell as well. They used to do that at home, the leaves and stuff I don’t know how. It’s got very again fast react to it. If you’ve got heart problem especially if you’re anxious it
P – It’s quite calming yes. I remember my grandmother having that because she had heart
problems. It’s amazing stuff because it helps a lot. I mean nowadays everything is chemicalbut those days they used a lot of the juice extract.
P - No. Just water. You just buy it in a bottle and drink it. Of course you can’t drink a lotof it, it’s like a medicine really. Like when she was in that way she would drink it in the
morning for a few days. One of the valerian,it’s like a root of the tree isn’t it? That is foranxiety. There are two different things. Basically they get the valerian from that. When
you brew it it’s a really dark drink you just mix the two together. Let me just look this up
2 Bidmeshk, the special flower of the 12th month of Esfand, would also appear as part of the celebrations of the Iranian New Year [NoRuz] (March 20). Listed as a special juice on the US website ht p:/ persiangrocery.com/us/Scripts/catview.asp?idCategory=22&logoid=2. Also described as pussy willow flower (bidmeshk) at ht p:/ www.illinoispersiansociety.5u.com/custom.html(both sites visited 24 March 2006). 3 The root of a tall perennial herb with pinkish flowers known as valerian (Valeriana of icinalis) is used as a remedy for insomnia, but
should not be used by children, pregnant or nursing women, those with serious health conditions, or taking prescription drugs for mood orneurological disorders. Chamomile, hops, lemon balm, passion flower, skullcap and suma are calming herbs that are frequently recommendedfor anxiety.
for you…. It’s blue colour… So, valerian and borage [Borago officinalis] together. This
amount of borage with two little sticks of valerian, she drinks it as a tea.
P – Yes. But she has run out of it. It’s very bitter, it’s not tasty but she puts dried lime in it.
When they brew it they put dried lime in it, it is quite tasty. This was what they described80/90 years ago. It’s always been around before having Prozac and that sort of thing – I
would go for Prozac. But it’s quite common.
P – Definitely you can find it. High Street Kensington, Iranian shops they definitely have
them. And some Indian shops as well.
P – Reza is the name, it’ just opposite Olympia.A set of Iranian shops that have always gothuge bowls out there with lots of fruit and you know you can’t miss it.
P – So you need to make that paste with rice flour … it doesn’t matter which flour. Basically you make that paste out of flour.
P – exactly the way you make bread. You just certain size obviously depending on how bigyour clay is. You’ve got the area of your back you’ve got pain, you just sort of stick it on
that part of the body and then you put bit of cloth as a wick. You make something like thatand you basically stick it in that flour. It’s gonna be a bit thick so it can get stuck there easily.
And then they put fire on it and then they put the clay back on that.
P - It’s like a jar, it can be as little as a cup even. I don’t know for what reason they use that
type of… Like these vases you’ve seen people who work with clay they make vases, a little
vase – there are different types. The idea behind it is that – the fire temperature you put itright on the top – and this like sucks out, they call it, the pain. It’s really effective if you have
back pain it helps a lot. You leave it for a while, 5 to 10 minutes. Sometimes you do that 2to 3 times on different parts of your back depending on which area you…
4 Reza Patisserie, 345 Kensington High Street , LONDON Phone: 020 7603 0924; Super Bahar Iranian food centre, 349a Kensington HighStreet London W8 6NW T: +44 20 7603 5083 (17 March 2006).
P – After they’ve done that they put some oil on it as well. It goes very red and raised that
P – Little cups they do it for forehead and stuff you just lie down. This sucking action, just
light a match and put it there then just lie back until it comes up. I’ve never done that but…
P – It’s more painful. You can feel it.
Have you managed to recreate the recipes in the UK?
P – Yes definitely. In London there’s nothing you can’t find.
Was it quite easy to adapt to the change when you came to the UK?
P – My mother was very unwell back in Iran. When she came here she did feel much better.
She was suffering from anxiety out there. I think it’s mainly social pressure. It’s problematicfor Iranians there. So when she came here it was… I think partially because of piece of
mind. At some point she had to take lots of tranquilizers. In that way yes. Weather ofcourse yes, she still misses.
P - In Iran you’ve got the four seasons. In Tehran, we’re from Tehran, it gets really cold inwinter and very hot in summer so you’ve got exactly the four seasons but most of the time
P – Yes still we cook a lot at home but obviously the way it’s eaten, you are at work you
can’t always take your homemade food with you. But I like all sorts of food anyway, but at
P – Yes I think it’s my Mum, she says all of these things that food is one of the most
important things. So you’ve got this flask, you’ve got two containers, one is for rice one isfor casserole and another on the top for salad she always makes food and it was always
ready in the morning. She warmed it up because I had to leave at 8 o’clock in the morning
so for another 4 or 5 hours the food stayed warm and that was kind of on a daily basis. InIran food is really really important and especially lunch is very important, it’s got to be rice.
When I was growing up, everything – because my mother was a housewife, she didn’t work
or anything – we always have proper food, rice definitely. One day rice wasn’t there,something must have happened, it was just impossible… wasn’t feeling well or something
like that. Especially my recollection of those days, if you didn’t have rice someone had justdied or something, she had gone to the funeral. exactly like that, so yes at least it was really
Was there really particular food that would made for festivals?
P – Yes, we have got own New Year, it’s not a religious thing.The year is 1,384. Now, it
comes from Persian Empire rule or something. And so every year on the New Year the
night before you make the rice and dill and a few different thing sort of herb with rice andfish, especially salmon. And then we’ve got Christmas tree and something we call the seven
S’s ["Haft Seen"]There are seven different things that begin with S, like we have watersymbol of purity, and fish. You make a little grass bank it just grows this high, a symbol of
nature I suppose. We’re not very good at it. That’s for the New Year. You paint coloured
eggs like in a big bowl with different colours. And for funeral, this particular dish, it’s likeflowers, sweet and saffron and egg and mix it and they fry it. That’s just sweet, any funeral
you can always see them. And dates especially date for funeral. And then in like religiousfestival you’ve got thousands of them like chopped lamb, cubed lamb with yellow lentils and
potatoes – that’s a casserole with rice. So any kind of mosques you go on that particular day,
they feed people for free. Any kind of mosque you go you just eat. That’s for two or threedays. They make these huge pans of food, everywhere.
P - It’s supposed to be for that, but everyone knows there’s plenty of it… especially for
poor they give them away. In Iran when somebody dies you’ve got the day they die and
then you’ve got the 7th and 40th. And all these days they have different ceremonies. Theones we are missing here I will definitely here I will put them together and email them to
Is there any religious practise that feel is essential to your health?
Well generally, she does pray she feels that helps her a lot morally. She does believe in God
but nothing like too extreme really, but as far as praying goes that what she feels that ithelps her morally.
Is there anything for different life stages that you can remember being used?
5 For a description of Zoroastrian cosmology and the New Year [No Ruz], see www.iranonline.com/festivals/Iranian-new-year/ (visited 24 March2006). 6 These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (aspecial kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh (sumak, an Iranian spice).
Yes definitely. There are certain things again for flu or all sorts of things connected with
that. They don’t eat grapes, they definitely avoid grapes.
Yes. They avoid sugar melon but they definitely have melon.
Just watermelon but not sugar melon. Grapes they definitely avoid. You know my wife, she
is British but she believes it. My mum has said now you’re coughing don’t have grapes and
she has experienced that when you’re coughing and you have grapes that’s really irritatingand it makes it worse. Anything sour when you are coughing or anything too greasy avoid
that. Yes it irritates it. Temperature again, stay light, not too heavy lots of drink and lots ofvitamin C.
Do you have certain ways of eating everyday to maintain health?
Yeah, Fruit is really again important. Everyday like after lunch they have fruits, after dinnerthey have fruits, all sorts of fruit. That’s something even when people cant’ sometimes
afford it they feel it’s vital. So they might cut down on something else but they don’t cut
down on eating fruit. So it is an essential part of life perhaps more than feeding your mind,at least if your physic is good that’s gonna help your mind as well.
So talking about doctors, what would you visit the doctor for in England?
When something happens and you’re not aware of it. As long as it’s cold or that sort of
thing you normally try to get rid of it by using natural things. You basically can’t tell what’s
wrong with it. Saying that we go to my mum’s doctor quite a lot because of differentproblems like pain, bones, stuff like that. But not as much really tries to avoid it unless it’s
Do you feel comfortable going to the doctor?
P - Yes definitely. But she’s been registered in the same surgery for the last 20 years and
sees the same doctor but sometimes that’s another one. But no she’s absolutely fine withthat.
P – School dinners…. I didn’t go to school in this country. Her school is pretty good, we’vealways got the menu but I’ve seen other schools, like burger and chips, fish and chips and
that sort of thing which I don’t really think they are healthy and I think government have
addressed that now, they do understand. I am surprised that many people in Britain, theydon’t eat fruit. I suppose the Italians or even the French they eat better. Too much grease
causes lots of heart problems and cholesterol problems. It can easily be sorted with a bit of
planning. I don’t thing it’s necessarily gonna cost more, it’s just planning it will solve a lot ofproblems. I’ve always wondered why they don’t give people of some guidance what is bad
and what is good, but then I realised that lots of companies and factories that are producing
these things and if we stop people from eating them then they are gonna go bust. Iremember when we were growing up, we did have chocolate but not to this extent at all. It
was always sweet/chocolate should have been an occasion that ‘oh we’re having chocolate’. Perhaps it wasn’t, the variety wasn’t exactly the same but Children used to go in trees and
pick different fruits. Children had a lot more fruits in those days than now. If I was a child
now of course I wouldn’t eat, there are lots of more exciting things around and of courseyou’d be more attracted to those.
P – I think I know that. My mother was suffering from this migraine really badly for a longtime. Especially recently over the last 2 or 3 years she was getting migraine every one or
two weeks. One of my friends, Marian, she’s an acupuncturist herself and she suggested it. So we tried it and it has worked, it really has. To be quite honest, with alternative
treatments it’s weird it is there but sometimes we say ‘lets just take the tablet and get rid of
it’, it’s easier way and we just came here that’s the way I looked at it but it has helped her alot.
Do you ever use any other alternative medicine?
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